Kakadu and Arnhem Land collage.
Kakadu and Arnhem Land N.T.

Predominantly Aboriginal lands, the Northern Territory's Kakadu-Arnhem region is considered one of the last wilderness frontiers, alongside places like The Kimberley (W.A.) and Cape York (Queensland).

Kakadu and Arnhem Land have managed to remain largely untouched due to the difficult access and a lack of interest from pastoral and mining concerns although one of the worlds largest uranium mines - The Ranger Mine has had an impact on lifestyle and environment.

The introduction of Water Buffalo, Brumbies (wild horses) feral pigs and cane toads has also impacted on the native flora and fauna but even so, for the casual observer, the area remains largely untouched.

The well known image of Kakadu is the impressive 330 metre escarpment rising from the landscape and running for 500km into Arnhem Land. Once a sea cliff when the area was under water 140 million years ago, todays image of the region is carved by the yearly influx of monsoonal rains.

Kakadu and Arnhem Land experience two distinct seasons, the wet and the dry (although Aboriginals identify 6 seasons) with the 'buildup' describing the impressive storms, heat and high humidity present before the rain arrives.

It's this influx of seasonal rain that creates such a diverse top-end experience. The inundation of water in the wet season erodes the landscape and creates wild rivers and crashing waterfalls. The season ends with the 'runoff' - the period where the water subsides and flows out to the ocean.

It's after the runoff that Kakadu and Arnhem Land become really accessible again and peak tourist season occurs during the dry season when the roads are fully open.

Kakadu-Arhem is renowned for ancient Aboriginal rock art, contemporary Aboriginal art and a tourist experience that could be considered more 'earthy' and ecologically grounded than a conventional holiday.

Facts about Kakadu and Arnhem Land

Area: 97,000²

Population: 16,000 approx.

Climate: Monsoonal

Geography: The 'Stone Country' incorporates the Arnhem Land Plateau rising from low grasslands and floodplains. Mangrove lined coastal regions and pockets of dense monsoon forest. The region is characterised by the annual inundation followed by the receding of monsoonal flood waters.

Flora: Among the richest in Australia with over 1700 species. Eucalyptus, spear and sedge grass, pandanus, melaleuca, water lilies, native wildflowers, mangroves, banyon tree, kapok tree.

Fauna: 8 species of kangaroo and wallaby, northern quoll, bandicoots, brush tailed phascogales, fruit bats, tree rats, dugong. 280 bird species including numerous parrots, lorikeets, rosellas, honeyeaters, thrushes, finches. 10,000 species of insect and numerous reptiles and both salt and freshwater crocodiles.

Kakadu and Arnhem Land Attractions
  • Jim Jim Falls
  • Twin Falls
  • Gayngaru Wetalnds
  • Ubirr Rock Art
  • Nourlangie Rock Art
  • Maguk Pools
  • Yellow Water
  • Garig Gunak Barlu National Park
  • Port Kennedy and Port Essington
  • Gove Peninsula beaches
  • Jarrangbarnmi/Koolpin Gorge
  • Maningrida Arts
  • Wunyo Beach
  • Sandy Creek
  • Coburg Peninsula
  • Marrawuddi Art Gallery
  • Nanguluwur Art/Barrk Sandstone Walk
  • Gunlom Plunge Pool
  • Victoria Settlement
Important Towns

Nhulunbuy, Jabiru, South Alligator, Cooinda, Maningrida, Gunbalanya, Yirrkala

Getting Around Kakadu and Arnhem Land

Access to Kakadu and Arnhem Land can be problematic. Firstly permits to visit are required from the traditional owners with quite a few areas out of bounds. Saying this there are registered tour operators who can access many of these places - with groups of paying tourists in tow. If you want to visit these places you either need to join a tour or befriend a local.

There are plenty of tour operators operating from Katherine and Darwin who are more than willing to take you into Kakadu and Arnhem Land but it's a very structured and medicated affair where your experience is administered to you in doses before you get back on the bus.

And while you're organising permits, note that alcohol restriction apply in various forms and that buying a beer or a wine to enjoy while you are camping is often no simple matter.

We think a 4WD camper is about the best way to see the place. There's enough camping grounds, both free and paid, for you spend your evenings under the remote Kakadu skies and there are a few private caravan parks for a slightly more 'serviced' camping experience.

The 4WD is going to get you into the more difficult tracks and beaches and the ability to self-drive means you can choose your own activities and mange your own itinery joining tours as you choose.

Best Time to Visit Kakadu and Arnhem Land

The dry season, June to September, is the most comfortable time of the year with 30 degree days and little chance of rain. Surprisingly nights can become cool. This time of year is also peak tourist season and prices and availability of services are at a premium.

October to March is the wet season and the rain brings the closure of many roads and water based attractions (waterfalls etc.). It's also the time when Kakadu and Arnhem Land are bursting alive with wildlife and greenery and tourist numbers and prices are lowest.

The top-end experience alters with seasonal changes and guessing the weather and it's effect on the environment can be a bit hit and miss.

We personally like the tropical regions right after the wet season. Tourist numbers are down and everything is green and raging with water. The problem is that you take a chance that all roads and attractions will be open.

If you can handle the 'buildup' - the extremely hot and humid period around November, before the wet season sets in, you can have much of the top-end to yourself. Quiet camp grounds, minimal tourists at the swimming holes and plenty of wildlife hanging around the much depleted watering holes.


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